Mobilize now against Iran and save the world


Just over three years ago, at the first-ever global forum on anti-Semitism organized by the State of Israel, the essential task was to define the beast — the new anti-Semitism. Since then, as
the fourth such global gathering meets this week, efforts to incorporate the “three-D” distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and the new anti-Semitism — demonization, double standards and delegitimization — have become part of international documents and discourse.

These and other accomplishments, as important as they are, have been dwarfed by the quantum leap anti-Semitism itself has taken. It has leapfrogged from isolated attacks against Jews to incitement to genocide — the actual elimination of the Jewish state.

This shift has come in the form of a pincer movement. On one side, we have the Iranian regime, which is denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while racing to develop the physical means of doing so. On the other side, we have what is, in effect, international silence in response, coupled with a growing willingness to discuss Israel’s existence as a mistake, an anachronism or a provocation.

We must recognize the fact that though sympathy for Iran’s expressed goal of Israel’s destruction is hardly mainstream, the idea of a world without Israel is more acceptable in polite company, the media and academia today than Hitler’s expressed goal of a Europe without Jews was in 1939.

Given this situation, it should be clear that we are beyond the stage of definitions. The Jewish world now must mobilize at a level no less than during the struggles to establish the State of Israel and to free Soviet Jewry. It is this latter struggle that presents the most potent model for action today.

Though both sides of the genocidal pincer are in quite advanced stages of development, the Jewish world remains mired in premobilization debates reminiscent of the early stages of the Soviet Jewry struggle in the 1960s. This may be hard to recall in light of the subsequent success, but back then a debate raged among Jews over whether a campaign to free Soviet Jewry was “too parochial,” and whether being out front risked making it too much of a “Jewish issue.”

Before these internal debates were resolved, the Soviet Jewry effort could not be regarded as a movement capable of attracting allies and moving governments. Nor were such debates easily, or ever fully, put to rest.

As late as 1987, when the by then-mature and powerful movement organized the largest-ever Soviet Jewry rally on Washington’s mall to coincide with Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit, some Jewish leaders wondered if the community could be mobilized, and if such a rally would be counterproductive. They warned that only a few thousand souls would brave the winter weather, and that the Jewish community would be considered “warmongers” who were spoiling the recent warming of U.S.-Soviet relations.

In actuality, over 250,000 people came to a rally that was pivotal in opening the floodgates, not just to 10,000 or 20,000 Jews, which seemed like a dream at the time, but to a million Jews who came to Israel over the following decade.

Since it has been a while, a reminder is in order of what full mobilization looks like.

First, as Shlomo Avineri has recently proposed, Iranian officials should get the Soviet treatment. Just as no Soviet official, including sport and cultural delegations, could travel without being accosted by protests and hostile questions, so it should be with anyone representing the Iranian regime. As in the Soviet case, such protests will not change Iranian behavior, but they are critical to creating a climate that will influence the policies of Western governments.

Second, an inventory of the governments and companies that provide Iran with refined oil, huge trade deals and even military and nuclear assistance should be taken, and public pressure be put on them to end their complicity with a regime that is racing to genocide.

Third, the pension funds of U.S. states should be divested from all companies that trade with or invest in Iran. This divestment campaign must be pursued without apologies or hesitation.

Fourth, every country that is party to the Genocide Convention should be called upon to fulfill its obligation under that treaty and seek an indictment of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the charge of incitement to genocide, which is a “punishable offense” under Article III of that treaty.

Fifth, human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which are heavily nourished by Jewish values, passion and funding, must stop squeezing both sides of the genocidal pincer.

These groups must be challenged, on the one hand, to press for enforcement of the Genocide Treaty, to stand up for human rights in Iran, and to oppose and expose Iranian support for terrorism. On the other hand, they must stop perverting the sacred cause of human rights into a cudgel in Iran’s hands against Israel. This happened just months ago when, during the Lebanon War, such groups all but ignored Hezbollah’s terrorism from behind human shields and called Israel’s self-defense a “war crime.”

Just as the two sides of the pincer themselves are connected, so too must be the efforts to combat them. All the above steps concern the Iranian side of the pincer. But combating the other side, the denial of Israel’s right to exist, is no less critical — and more difficult, since at times they necessitate confronting not a rogue regime, but our own cherished institutions. On this front:

First, universities that provide chairs for professors who campaign against Israel’s right to exist should be boycotted. In a number of countries, denying the Holocaust is a criminal act. In the current context, denying Israel’s right to exist lays the groundwork for a second holocaust even more directly than does denying history.

Therefore, the promulgation of such an ideology should be fought even by societies that justifiably revere freedom of speech.

Our Cross to Bear?


At first blush it seemed an odd thing for an observant Jew to do: Slogging my way through morning rush-hour traffic to get downtown to demonstrate against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ decision to remove a small cross from the county seal.

And yet, I felt compelled to be there. The supervisors had already capitulated, in a 3-2 vote, to a threat by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the county over the cross. Surprised by the public outcry, the supervisors called for another vote to consider a so-called “compromise” with the ACLU in which the cross on the seal — just one of a dozen various symbols of the region’s history — would be replaced by a mission. But as one clever observer noted, a mission without a cross just looks like a Taco Bell.

For years the actions of the ACLU have infuriated me. Their reflexively leftist positions have accomplished the exact opposite of what their name suggests: Instead of promoting civil liberties, they have hampered them at every opportunity, particularly by trying to eradicate symbols of Judaism and Christianity from public life and, by extension, have stifled free expression. Their successful bullying tactics have so cowed public officials that they simply fold when the ACLU comes complaining. In fact, the ACLU first targeted the city of Redlands, whose city seal also has a cross, and now bureaucrats there are busily taking black marker to the crosses until they can redesign the seal. Things must be pretty slow at the ACLU if this is all they can come up with as a threat to our national civil liberties.

By the way, the Los Angeles County seal also includes the pagan goddess Pomona, goddess of gardens and fruit trees, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the ACLU. Their animus is toward Christianity and Judaism, and it is as limitless as it is hypocritical. While they are now busily checking for crosses on county seals (and the cross on the Los Angeles County seal is so small they probably needed a magnifying glass to see it), they are only selectively bothered by Christian symbols. In 1995 they represented — are you ready? — the Ku Klux Klan, who were denied the right to erect a 6-foot cross in front of the Ohio Capitol State building. This bastion of “free speech” and civil liberties took up the Klansmens’ case (Capitol Square Review Board vs. Pinette), rejecting Ohio’s argument that allowing the display violated the separation of church and state. According to the ACLU, a tiny cross on a county seal representing part of the county’s history is intolerable, but an enormous cross put up by virulently racist Klansmen in front of a state capitol building is an expression of free speech. Got it?

Many of the demonstrators, led by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, argued that by eliminating the cross from the seal, the supervisors were rewriting history — a hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Like it or not, Los Angeles was founded by the Rev. Junipero Serra as a mission, making Christianity a central element in the county’s early history. For a group claiming to stand for free speech and civil liberties, eviscerating the truth of our history is unconscionable.

Most people understand the danger inherent in rewriting history. That’s why the 1,000-plus demonstrators at the Hall of Supervisors were multiracial, multiethnic and religiously diverse. (Of course, one would not know that from the coverage in the Los Angeles Times, which chose to include a photo making the gathered crowd look like a good ol’ boy come-to-Jesus meeting. The photo was so misleading and out of context that the Times ran a correction the following day.) I was pleased to find some of my religious friends among the crowd, including David Altschuler, who took his 10th-grade daughter out of school for the occasion. Like me, David came to show non-Jews that “many Jews appreciate the freedom that Christians in this country have granted to us.” Many people who noticed his kippah came up and thanked him for coming.

I probably would not have come to value the importance of this issue had I not studied with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, founder and president of Toward Tradition and formerly the rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice. For nearly 20 years, he has been a lone voice in the wilderness, arguing that it is the uniquely tolerant brand of Christianity practiced here that has given Jews the kind of freedom unprecedented anywhere in the Diaspora. On Jewish participation in the fight to save the cross on the seal, Lapin said, “Seldom have Jews appealed to the Christian community in vain when we needed help with issues important to us, such as supporting Soviet Jewish immigration or fighting domestic anti-Semitism. This is a chance for the organized Jewish community to return the favor.”

If anyone would have told me in my early adulthood that I’d become a defender of the cross, so to speak, I would have been as incredulous as if they’d also predicted I’d one day vote Republican. But people change. Sometimes, people become open to new ideas, even previously foreign ideas. The cross on the county seal is small, but the fight to preserve it is very, very big. I demonstrated not only to preserve the truth of our history, but also because I’ve had enough of the tyranny of the ACLU. This time, they’re after crosses. Can anybody doubt that next time it will be a Star of David?

Judy Gruen is an award-winning humorist and columnist for Religion News
Service. More of her columns can be found at www.judygruen.com.